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Life Check

A Human Journey


by HD Whalen


Copyright © 2017 Harold David Whalen


All rights reserved, including the right of re production, either in whole or in part, in any form.



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Forward


Murdered! Stabbed repeatedly! Her body stuffed in a laundry cart and left in an upper stairwell deep within Caesar’s Lake Tahoe Hotel. It has been there for days. She was my cousin and she was dead! I will never know the whole story.

Returning from a weekend desert camping trip at the Colorado River, my wife I had just come through our front door an early Sunday summer evening of nineteen-ninety-one. We had been renting a house in Southern California’s East San Diego County.

Our answering machine light was continually flashing red; on and off; on and off.

I carried in an armload of dirty, sweat-soaked, weekend laundry as I walked past the flashing light. Automatically I hit the play button. By the time my mother’s distraught voice came on, I was halfway down the back steps and heading towards the laundry room, “Call me as soon as you get this. It’s important!”

Immediately I dropped the soiled clothes to the ground and returned to the kitchen. I snatched the phone and called my mother, “Hi. What’s going on?”

“Your cousin has been murdered.” She went on to tell me the sketchy details her brother had relayed to her about his daughter’s death. It was too soon and he hadn’t known much. He was on his way south from Vancouver, Canada to Reno, Nevada where her body was waiting.

I dropped dazed into my overstuffed easy chair. I sat there for hours until well after dark contemplating life. How fragile it is. How’s there no schedule for life or death.

I thought back through times when I had cheated death. In reality, it wasn’t so dramatic. I hadn‘t cheated anything but only extremely lucky.

Life is scattered with possible ending situations. Mine included drowning, bear mauling, crushed by a dump truck, and more. It’s not that we consciously fail to recognize these circumstances; we just don’t believe death is ever that close.

After experiencing a near-miss vehicle accident, we curse the faulty driver and simply overlook the fact that it could have been our demise. Ongoing scenarios include vehicle accidents, natural disasters, or running into the wrong person; there are infinite possibilities.

Only a limited number of these events are recognized and life continues with no more than an annoyance, if any acknowledgement at all.

After replaying my personal near-death experiences through my mind, I continued to contemplate the good and bad times of my life, the mistakes, successes, and all the characters I met along the way.

Years later, I finally decided to put my stories on paper; the following reflect how I progressed through my life…





PART I

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Port Alberni, Canada - 1956 thru 1964




Drowning

SPRING 1956



It was a cold early spring day. I slid into a deep-water filled pit. My feet could not touch bottom as the bulky winter clothes dragged me down into the muddy liquid.

Thankfully, my brother Thom reached in and found my toque. He quickly grabbed it and pulled with all the might his tiny hands could muster until my cap released from my head into his grip. Incredibly, he managed to drag me far enough out of the hole to liberate me from certain death.

During the rescue, my brother was lucky not to have slipped in beside me. The ordeal could have easily ended in a double funeral.

I was a year younger than four-year-old Thom was and he just saved my life.

The sheer-sided menace dug for a septic tank. Winter set-in before the installation was completed. The earthen walled death trap immediately filled with water during the first wintery storm and remained so through later spring.

The temperature was as cold as a thawing freezer with continuous melting drips. Thom and I were bundled in our winter coats, galoshes, with itchy woolen toques covering our heads. We played unsupervised outside in the presumed safety of our backyard.

Our family moved into a half-duplex, five miles from Port Alberni, Canada located in the heart of Vancouver Island the previous summer. This primitive dwelling was absent of inside plumbing. The kitchen sink had an old chipped cast iron hand pump mounted beside it. This contraption delivered the only water into the dwelling from a board-covered outside well. The empty septic basin should have been covered too.

The vertical wood-slatted outhouse, located in our backyard, was beyond a wide ditch. This outbuilding’s only access was a rickety plank bridge with split log handrails spanning the five-foot creek trench. My perilous crater located just before the bridge crossing alongside the back of the building where our unit adjoined the other.

A family lived unit next door in the shared building. They had a girl, around age six and her slightly younger brother.

On this near fatal day, the older girl joined Thom and me in our backyard. The three of us frolicked as free as escaped puppies, next to the ever-present septic hole. A thin sheet of ice occasionally appeared and disappeared, day to day, across its surface.

Throughout the winter, Thom and I previously broke any at-hand ice with rocks or sticks. Neither understood the dangers of playing around the pit, empty or full.

This particular morning I lied on my stomach, stretched out one of my mitted hands to reach down and break the thin ice covering the orifice. Without warning I quickly slid on the water soaked muddy banks into the thick dark milk chocolate colored liquid.

The girl ran abandoning Thom and me. It was up to my brother whether I lived or died in the following seconds.

As I lay free on a small rain-soaked grass patch, my mother came galloping up with the young neighbor girl on her heels. During the rescue, the childish next-door-girl at least had the presence of mind to find my mother and tell her I was in danger.

In reality, I don’t believe the young girl understood the deadly situation Thom and I were in and only ran to tattle on us for playing around the water-filled pit.

This was my second life terminating drowning experience in as many years.




Fourteenth Street

SUMMER 1957



After a short stint living in the business district slums on First Avenue my family moved to Fourteen Avenue.

Our mainly forested five-acre property lay adjacent to the city’s limits. It featured a small field beyond a year round creek beside our house. Flanking our neighborhood, continuous dense bush, with all but impassible underbrush, stretched for countless square miles. It was a man’s childhood playground.

Quickly Thom and I indoctrinated into the ragtag gang of eighteen neighborhood boys living in close proximity on Thirteenth Street and Fourteenth Avenue. We called it Thirteenth Street despite the city labeling of Anderson Avenue.

Our activities included dawning baseball gloves for rock fights, forest expeditions, or playing sports on our graveled neighborhood street. Our small bodies constantly covered with bruises, scrapes and bleeding cuts. We were a tough bunch of youthful kids.

One occasion I missed snagging a rock in my glove and Wayne hit me in the mouth with a piece of shale. I still have a lumpy souvenir in my upper lip.

Constant neighborhood fights sprung up. My proudest moment was when my brother beat up my best friend Anton. Brothers always trumped friends.

Thom and I shared fisticuffs often, mostly instigated from my mistaken prowess. I was a slow learner and always ended up the loser. Hurt and crying I would run to my Mother for salvation. Mother would stop my beating but always knew I deserved it. She never offered me sympathy; no matter how hard I tried falsely convincing her it wasn’t my fault.

I was one of the smallest neighborhood boys. It was my self-imposed requirement to prove I could be larger than life. One afternoon Larry was looking for me. He was my age and in my fourth grade class through extremely larger than I was. We encountered at the common meeting ground; a wooden lot adjacent to Donnie’s back side-yard swing-set. I never knew what Larry’s problem was or what initiated the altercation.

He approached and immediately pushed me backwards. I didn’t fall but stepped forward and pushed him back while sliding my right foot behind him; he went down. He came up charging hard. I sidestepped and tripped him once more. Again, he was instantly on his feet. This time unchecked anger oozed over his dirt streaked crying face as he yet again charged. I was terrified. I tried my side-step trick again. Unbelievably it worked. To my relieve Larry with tears flowing like a bucketing rainstorm, jumped to his feet and ran home. He was a later comer to our gang and was now on the outs.

Larry moved to our neighborhood a couple of months before and moved out shortly after our fight. Thankfully, I never had to encounter him again.

One afternoon we congregated at the ever-popular spot next to Donnie’s swings. Jungle Jim was present wanted to exhibit his strength. This event featured him performing sit-ups.

He was just shy of three hundred with no signs of letting up. One of our mob made the grave mistake of stopping him by grabbing Donnie’s nearby garden hose and squirting water into his face. Jim immediately flew to his feet and took off chasing the running kid. Besides his proven strength, Jim was also a very fast runner. In short order, the poor kid caught and pummeled. Jim didn’t think the stupid water trick was as funny as the rest of us had, though not one of us uttered a word or dare laugh, scared of being the next turn on the receiving end of Jungle Jim’s punishing fists. We were eternally grateful when Jim’s mother called him home for lunch.

Growing up with that many boys in close proximity, the altercations never ceased. Any received pain only lasted a few minutes, unless administered by Jungle Jim’s iron anvils.




Bear Mauling

AUTUMN 1957



Upon walking up our circular drive, I encountered a black bear standing upright on his hind legs eating apples off one of our trees. The bear looked enormous as he and I stood face-to-face no more than ten feet apart. I was four years old.

We hadn’t owned a television set so I missed seeing Disney’s Davy Crockett series. A few of my neighborhood friends had and owned fake coonskin caps, rubber Bowie knives and plastic long-rifle replicas purchased from Woodward’s department store. All had Davy’s name prominently embedded in the toys.

My friends and I frequently re-enacted the scene where barehanded Davy fought a huge ferocious teeth bearing, snarling black monster. We would take turns being either Crockett or the bear. On the show Davy eventually ended unscathed and killing the huge wild beast using only his Bowie knife. His weapon hadn’t been the rubber version.

Young Davy Whalen did not own a knife or have a coonskin cap but was just as invincible. Upon facing my massive bulk of black fur, I reached down to the gravel driveway and picked up a rock. I was not under the illusion I was going to kill the bear but expected I could scare the intruder scampering back into the forest.

I threw the rock as hard as I possibility could. Not even remotely close to a major league baseball pitcher, my rock inconceivably flew high and wide to the right missing my mark.

It was a safer and more trusting era. Port Alberni was a logging and paper mill town. Tall trees and thick-forested mountains surrounded the area. The valley air constantly hung with a pungent odor emitting from the oversized pulp mill located along the canal on the border between Port Alberni and Alberni.

Alberni Valley was a wet dreary place, built on foothills in the shadow of nearby mountains and surrounded by wild animal infested thick bush. It was a continuous wide hill containing various degrees of slopes and bisected with numerous creeks and ravines. With the exceptions of a few of winter snowstorms, it rained constantly from permanent gray skies. The heavens dripped non-stop starting in October and ending in late May and more than not the rest of the year.

Most of the outlaying rural neighborhoods had gravel roads and ours was no different.

My parents bought an old two-story house on five acres of land on the southeastern edge of town set back from the adjacent neighborhood at the dead end corner of Fourteenth Avenue and Scott Street. Tall Douglas fir hid our property from view. The yard accessed only by the circular graveled driveway.

The house contained three bedrooms and one bath plus an unfinished basement. The outer wall’s wooden lapped white boarding was in need of a new paint job and the house appeared more run-down than it was. It could have easily doubled as a haunted house. All it needed was a secret room.

To enter the home you climbed a wide wooden staircase hugging the outside front wall. It led to the elevated covered porch and front door. The other entrance was a ground level back door at the rear left corner leading into the basement.

The house pad and surrounding yard was located in the front corner of the property and surrounded by five apple trees and a large cherry tree. In the summer time, our field filled with overgrown grass and bracken ferns. Across the pasture laid a decrepit old barn and a worsened conditioned one-room shack.

The rest of the thick-forested land spread out past our property line for a hundred or more uninhabited square miles eastward to the mountains. The wild bush populated with cougar, bear, deer, and smaller wild creatures. Unbeknownst to us children it was a dangerous playground.

Kindergarten was not part of the required school curriculum and only offered privately. It is akin to modern day preschools. My mother apparently thought I needed as much schooling as possible and without a minute to lose. She signed me up for our church sponsored kindergarten. None of my neighborhood friends attended.

Our home was more than a mile from the Church’s downtown location. We only owned an old two-ton International pickup truck and my mother didn’t drive. My mother escorted me to class. We walked two and a half blocks downhill to the bus stop kitty-corner across the street from DeVoy’s small corner market. It cost each of us a dime for our fares to ride the public transit downtown. After disembarking the bus, we walked downhill, another two blocks ending in the church’s basement class.

At the end of the two hour morning session, I would meet my waiting Mother for a three-block stroll to my father’s store in the heart of Port Alberni’s small retail district. Father closed his Sherman Williams Paint Store coupled with his backroom sign shop for the lunch hour and drove us home.

After a couple of days, my mother made sure I was appropriately clad, donning rain gear and warm clothing. She would hand me a dime for the bus fare and it was up to me, unescorted, to get to kindergarten and subsequently to my Dad’s shop. It was an easy route and I relished my young independence.

My routine lasted for the few months I attended kindergarten. We were a poor family and could not continue to afford the almost-free tuition. I possessed the distinction of being a Kindergarten dropout.

A couple of weeks later on an uncommon clear Fall day my father on his way to a rare lunch time painting job and dropped me off from kindergarten in front of DeVoy’s Market to walk the final leg home by myself. This day I walked into my nearly fatal bear encounter.

After the immature young, Davy missed hitting the bear with his rock our short stocky black mongrel dog, appropriately named Stubby, charged to my rescue. My fearlessly barking savior chased the bear off into the forest while I scampered across the yard and up the front porch stairs to safety.

It was only minutes later when Dad came to a dust covered sliding halt in our driveway.

My father sat me down on our chrome legged and yellow vinyl covered chairs surrounding our kitchen table and explained to me a bear’s forest dexterity, blazing speeds, unstoppable strengths and unwillingness to share their territory with small lunch-sized children.

He ended explaining that if I unfortunately hit the bear with my rock, it would not have scared him off but infuriated him to the point of attack. My bear could have easily jumped the short distance and landed on me. It would have ended quickly and badly with me mulled to death beyond recognition from one powerful swoop of his giant paw.

His lecture sent shivers throughout my small body down to the core of my sole. I experienced years of nightmares where I always ended up eaten by large black bears. The common dream had me running around an old steam powered locomotive on display across from the pulp mill. The snarling creature on my heels, never failed to catch me. I desperately needed stronger leg muscles.

This was the only one of my Father’s countless lectures that I retained throughout my life. If dad’s good-intentioned sermon hadn’t scared me to death I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about my bear encounter.



Death by Dump Truck

SUMMER 1959



My old second hand bike and I, coupled as one, stared down the grim reaper as we skimmed across the unforgiving asphalt.

The dump truck driver slammed on his brakes squealing to a sudden stop. My forty-pound frail body ended its slide across the dirty road wedged against the truck’s large back dual tires. Apparently, seeing me, he managed to bring the empty thirty-five-thousand pound death machine to a standstill at the exact instant I was to be crushed. My short five-year-old life should have ended that afternoon as a grease spot on the pavement in the middle of Thirteenth Street.

I was out cold by the time traumatized driver pulled me from under his heavy machine. After coming to I pushed my bike back up Scott Street towards home. The man on my heels.

As he talked with my mother, my father came barreling into the driveway. Everyone was extremely upset. After sorting things out, the distressed driver went back to work and thankfully, I went back to my life.

Scott Street was a short one-block moderately steep gravel road. The T-intersection where Scott Street met Thirteenth was blind in both directions. The top of the short street ended at our drive

Thirteenth an extremely dangerous neighborhood thoroughfare was the main corridor for dump trucks and garbage trucks hauling loads into and out of Port Alberni. The trucks always hurried, constantly sped up and down the street over the legal limit.

I don’t know whose idea it was but Anton and I decided we could increase our bike thrill by gaining speed on the Scott Street hill before turning onto the busy avenue. It was all but impossible to stop on the loose-rocked hill bottom thus the need to round the corner.

We took turns, one standing at the bottom of the block signaling to the other straddling my bike for the safe-to-go signal. It was a fool prove plan.

On my second, Anton gave me the all clear sign. I took off snowballing my speed with every pedal rotation, my hair blown back and jacket flapping like a flag in a windstorm. As soon as I made the required turn I saw the steel death trap. Terrified, I lost control and went down into my slide.

I never knew if Anton got his signals crossed or just missed seeing the ominous dump truck. Either way I was exceptionally lucky to be alive.

We never played that nearly fatal game again.




Secret Room

SUMMER 1960



It was late Saturday night. My parents were out at their square dancing club. Thom and I had been sitting on the floor in front of our old bulky black and white cabinet television set watching a horror movie.

In the mountain, surrounded Alberni Valley TV reception sans cable was extremely limited. Our tall antenna only received one channel. Cable subscribers received unprecedented three or four channels. Our broadcasting station started its weekly broadcast at four-thirty in the afternoon and the Indian test pattern returned to the screen at eleven-thirty at night ending the days viewing. Their weekend transmissions started at nine AM and ended at one AM the following morning.

The movie Thom and I watched, staged in an old haunted mansion, was complete with secret rooms and hallways. The ghost, really the previous owner, tried to reclaim his property by hiding within the walls and peering out the eyeholes from different paintings, rattling chains and generally scaring the residents. Thom and I wished we had a secret room.

The upper floor bedroom walls of our two story haunted house were constructed three feet in from the steeped peaked roof. This left a triangle shaped space behind the bulwark. Across the hallway, at the top of the narrow staircase between the two bedrooms contained a large opened closet area. The north wall shielded our soon-to-be realm. It was the perfect setup.

Thom and I scurried to our basement and found my father’s circular electric Skill saw. Immediately we lugged the limb-amputating device upstairs. After cleaning out the overstuffed closet, we plugged in the saw and started cutting our new door in the plywood partition.

We had never used a power tool before and had no idea what we were doing. Thom pulled the handle trigger and the tool’s blade jumped to life with a high-pitched whine. The blurring high-speed blade had more torque than we anticipated and almost jerked the power tool from his hands. We were terrified but unnerved.

Kneeling Thom pressed the trigger again; gripping the circular saw with both hands, he pushed it into the wooded wall near the bottom edge. When the cutting blade made contacted the saw jumped to the right. Still under full power, he tried to slide it over back to the original position. Having a mind of its own, the saw kept going to the left past his designated starting point.

My brother let go of the trigger and set the saw down. We looked over his first try. There was a wide area of deep gashes all around where we wanted to cut. Not one gash was straight. It was time to try again. This time Thom managed to get the saw blade through the plywood. Success was within our grasp. Thom continued the cut upward completing the first jagged slot to the top of our door.

It was my turn. I repeated my brother’s maneuver across the top of the door with the same ragged results. We had the first two rough cuts. Thom finished the final downward cut. Together we pulled the piece of plywood from the top down, bending the bottom holding nails until our door fell into the cleared closet. As messy and unsightly as it was we had our gateway and amazingly all our limbs.

We peered through the opening into the pitch-black abyss. A flashlight was in order. Quickly we ran back to the basement and returned with light in hand. Thom and I entered our new kingdom.

The floor was nothing but exposed studs stuffed between with asbestos pads. A few dust-laden planks were stacked along the interior wall. Soon the leftover boards were spread-out laying a makeshift floor.

Thom and I were sweating profusely. Even with the cold outside winter night air the heat trapped within our small-enclosed area under the roof was unbearable. After a few torturous minutes, we had to get out.

In too deep, we had no choice but to finish what we had started and headed back to the basement in search of a hammer and some very short nails. Following our plan, we loosely nailed the door into place. Once it was set, it would be a simple matter to pry open to enter and reset upon exiting.

After attaching our straightforward door, we filled the closet back up hiding our hideous carpentry. Neither Thom nor I ever returned to our hidden room.

My parents did not noticed the mess we made on our first construction project, even when the closet emptied for our move to California.

It truly was our secret room.




Mine Expedition

WINTER 1961



It was a horrific torrential winter storm. The pounding sheets of water escaping from the black low hung clouds were unrelenting.

As Anton and I emerged from our third grade class, we saw my father waiting in his car. He honked us over. As we are scrambling into the warm dry vehicle, he immediately announced we were going to the caves.

Dad mysteriously found out that a group of our gang had been frequenting a set of caverns deep in the forest on the southern outskirts of Port Alberni. I suspected my mother overheard us boys exaggerating our experiences and passed off misinformation to my father. What he had not learned was the fact; we only went to the caves during the summer months.

Our caves were manmade; actually, they were abandoned mines. There were three of them located along a barely negotiable canyon and scattered across a dangerous swift running river.

To reach the mines we squeezed through a hole cut at the bottom of a chain-linked fence before negotiating an old abandoned train trestle. The bridge spanned the sheer walled gorge and raging river more than one hundred feet below. The ancient overpass was rotten and extremely treacherous with many missing ties. Crossing forced us to crawl slowly along the steel rusted rails. It was more than a miracle that not one boy ever fell to his death.

To arrive at the first mine, after crossing the threatening wooden monolith, we climbed and slid down the steep canyon wall to the riverbank far below. From there we hiked up the river’s edge before traversing the fast running barrier by jumping from slippery rock to slippery rock jutting through the cold violent current. Once on the other side we again continued upriver before re-crossing to reach the first mine. The other two mines were located further up river and respectively on opposite sides. Every river crossing was dangerous.

On many occasions, the water was too high and fast to attempt a crossing and prematurely forced us to ditch our expeditions. Apparently, my mother selectively overheard us bragging only of our successful missions.

The first and third deeper mines were narrow unevenly dug tubes into the mountainside. The cavities, supported by a few old decayed timbers, required the taller kids to bend over or suffer cracked heads. There were a lot of missing supports and the earthen ceilings could have caved in at any moment burying our group of young explorers.

The mines were cold and wet. The walls continuously seeped water leaving large deep puddles spread beneath the mine tracks. We balanced along a single rail occasionally slipping and filling our rubber galoshes with muddy iced water.

We could not venture into either more than a few yards. It was blacker than the inside of a sealed chest. We often talked of bringing flashlights though we never had. Probably too afraid of what might be lurking in the darkness. Not one of us was ever as brave as we portrayed. It was a wonderful and dangerous play area.

When Anton and I emerged from school that drenching afternoon and spotted my Father, I became immediately ecstatic for a waterless cozy ride home. I fruitlessly hoped this trend would continue and this day would be the first of many! It was not to be; this was the only ride from school I ever experienced.

I wondered why he picked such a horrific day for a field trip. It was obvious to me we weren’t going to the mines. The lower canyon would be inaccessible. In addition, if we could miraculously have reached the canyon bottom the winter river would be too high and rough to cross. Besides there was no way I was going to crawl across the wet, slippery trestle. I visualized the wind and rain sweeping me to my death.

Following my instructions, the three of us drove to the barrier fence. First, my dad pointed out the large yellow and black bullet holed NO TRESSPASSING sign wired to the chain-links and asked if we knew what it meant. We feigned stupidity. It wasn’t hard.

Anton and I crawled in the mud through the small opening while my dad, without choice, climbed over. Three of us were soaked and cold. After making our way to the trestle, we stood staring at the frightening bridge. In the downpour the thrashing, currents below were almost invisible.

“Well, where’s the caves?” my father bluntly asked.

I pointed to an un-seeable spot up river and explained, “All we have to do is cross the trestle, climb down the bank, cross the river a couple of times and we’re there.”

My Father immediately joined my team. There was utterly no way he was attempting the unfeasible crossing either. He never saw the mines let alone stood on the opposite side of the canyon.

Banned from ever returning to the mines, I thought, “my playground isn’t shrinking but left to expand into uncharted territory”, of which was abundant.

In the end, I dropped off at home, was cold, muddy, and wet to the bone from head to toe. My superficial warm and dry ride left to fantasy.




Hanging Jungle Jim

SUMMER 1961



Jungle Jim, once again determined to demonstrate strength, this time by hanging. He was extremely strong though not very bright.

None of the six neighborhood gang members involved realized the severity of our crime or the irreversible damage we could have caused him in less than a minute by cutting off the blood flow in his carotid artery notwithstanding his quick demise.

A group neighborhood boys congregated in the sparsely tree filled vacant lot adjoining Donnie’s house and kiddy-corner across Fourteenth Street from ours. The oldest boy in our group was around nine years of age, with the rest of us being a year or two younger.

Our old guy cuddling a rope was practicing tying Hangman’s nooses. Western movies dominated our fantasies.

Jim came along and suggested we hang him. At first, we refused but after Jim’s persistence, we stupidly obliged. One of us grabbed the rope with a hangman’s noose adorning one end and placed the large knotted loop around Jungle Jim’s neck. After throwing, the loose end of the rope over a thick lower tree branch we all took position along the line and struggled mightily trying to achieve lift. After many tries, the jungle-boy feet swung freely.

Only seconds later, the boy’s face turned scarlet. His eyes bulged. His throat making muffled coughs.

My brother, Thom, immediately yelled to release him.

Jim barely whispered out a protest, “No. I’m good.”

Thankfully, we ignored his objection and followed Thom’s advice dropping him back to earth. Our lives certainly would have been different if we had murdered Jungle Jim that day.




Economics

SPRING 1962



Wayne, Greg, Anton, Thom, and I decided to turn our dilapidated shed across the small pasture from our house, into a pigeon coup. While nailing patches to the floor we found a handful of old blasting caps.

That evening my Dad lit a huge bon fire and we threw in the caps, one at a time, resulting in ear splitting explosions. After every cap exploded, the boys proceeded to chase each other around the field with flaming sticks. My father let us have some harmless fun in the clear star filled summer evening.

My mother looked out the window to check on us. From her field of vision, she concluded the boys were getting dangerously out of hand. Her solution, rather than breaking up our party, was to call me into the house. I hadn’t understood her reasoning. I was the smallest kid at the bedlam and I couldn’t even run fast enough to catch anyone.

It was late evening and past my usual bedtime. To my astonishment, she didn’t send me to upstairs but instead told me it was my piano practice time.

I sat playing boring scales for a half hour. I counted my punishment minute by minute as my time slowly dragged by. I had seen a prison movie on TV and it occurred to me that I should be scratching a vertical mark in the living room wall for every passing minute.

When my half hour finally ended, I ran outside. The party had broken up and everyone gone home.

My warden’s plan was brilliant; by removing the easiest mark and leaving no one to pick on, it hadn’t taken long for the others to get bored and leave. My mother continued this ruse on me more than once to curtail my enjoyment.

As pigeon curators, we put up chicken wire over the window opening and we made a small one-way steel-rod pigeon door in the shed’s wall beside the entrance. The rickety front door just needed a few dozen nails added to shore it up.

We all bought an assortment of dollar birds and filled our coup.

I heard about a guy selling tumblers for a couple of dollars apiece. My parents gave us five dollars and Thom and I walked to his house in the lower part of town.

The first thing the guy asked, “How much money do you have?”

I proudly blurted out, “Five dollars.” Thom kicked me hard in the shins. I never could figure out how he always hit the same spot; stacking bruise on top of bruise.

The seller told us the birds were two-fifty each.

We ended up broke with two pigeons. On the way home, Thom explained that we could have gotten three birds for five dollars if I kept my big mouth shut and left the negotiations to him. My brother had just taught me my first lesson in economics; quantity discounts. It was a painful lesson.

In the post weeks, we realized pigeons were tedious work that we were not prepared to dedicate ourselves to. The other three boys living a block away left all the feeding and cleaning to Thom and me.

I do not know if it was planned but the pigeon door had been inadvertently left open and eventually all our birds flew off.

My first paying job was a paper route. I was too young to get a route of my own. Dan, a neighbor boy, a couple of years older than me, acquired a large route and generously offered me a section of it.

I tried to talk Thom into helping me to no avail. My mother came to my rescue and forced my brother to join me in the paper route business.

The Twin City Times, a weekly free paper, had to be delivered to every house. Thom and I usually delivered together. Every Wednesday afternoon we walked and sometimes rode our bikes miles in the pouring rain. A couple of times mother took pity on us and drove Thom and me along our route.

Each newspaper required walking up steps to a covered porch and placing the paper under the doormat to keep it dry. There was very little benefit to ride a bike or get a car ride as neither cut down on the across the yard and the up-and-down-porch labor.

Thom and I were paid a penny a paper. Dan assigned us the outskirts of his route. Our thirty-five houses were scattered over more than a mile from beginning to end and then we had the get home.

During the winter months the sun set well before five o’clock in the afternoon. After school let out Thom and I started our route by three-thirty. With a little more than an hour of daylight, we usually arrived home well after dark and soaked to the bone.

We each made seventy cents a month. On payday, we stopped at the closest corner market and gorged ourselves with as much candy as we could afford.

Dan was considerably more self-serving than bighearted.

We quit the paper route after a couple of months when Thom gave me my second economy lesson; labor verses reward.

Thom and I took up bottle collecting. We would ride our bikes dangerously along the treacherous highway and busy country roads collecting discarded soda bottles. We each received a brand new three-speed bicycle for Christmas. His was British racing green and my Italian racing red. Only in our excited minds were we faster than the cars whizzing by within inches of our fast pedaling bikes.

The two cents a bottle redemption should have been far more lucrative at than our paper-route. The problem was our collecting fields were miles from where we lived. It took many times longer to ride back and forth than collecting the profit makers.

After a few times the fun vanished and it reduced to tedious mundane work. Our bottle collecting business was a bust.

The only other work we did as young boys in Port Alberni was paramount to slave labor for my mother. She always instigated summer berry picking parties. After hours under the hot summer sun amongst thorny flesh-tearing blackberry patches, filling buckets of berries, we compensated with an ice cream cone and a promise to go to the lake swimming.

The ice cream reward was always delicious and devoured quickly. Moreover, I believe we actually made it to the lake once.




Hood Sledding

WINTER 1963



It had been snowing hard for two days. The frozen ground blanketed with soft white ice crystals.

A gang of nine pre-teen neighborhood boys immediately headed to the dump. The refuge lot was located south on Anderson Avenue below a small steep curved hill just out of town. The pavement ended at the top of the hill.

Alberni Valley is an extremely rainy area dropping water faster than a commercial irrigation sprinkler. The ground’s absorption ability was constantly beyond its limits leaving running water ubiquitously present. We only received a couple of snowfalls a year. Rarely was there enough white frozen water to last more than a day on the ground.

This was the first snow of the year. Thankfully, it was deep enough for real fun.

Across the road from the dump was the cable trail coming down the steep mountainside. Previously a year earlier, a thick communications cable installed across Vancouver Island. This eight foot wide plowed and elevated access trail covered the buried cable. Our end of the trail contained five large water runoff ridges evenly spaced across it down the mountain. We knew the cable trail was specifically made for us.

The large vicious black guard dog was nowhere in sight. We snuck into the dump.

All of us stole through the dump many times to the trailhead of Little Copper Mountain at back edge of the trash area. The scruffy, teeth bearing watchdog always present, chained just beyond reach somewhere near the front gate. He barked ferociously whenever anyone entered the dump alerting the on-duty manager there was either a customer or intruder.

This day it seems the dump supervisor, not expecting many visitors had kept the dog inside the small warm plywood office.

We immediately headed to the salvaged auto parts section and picked out a perfect discarded old steel car hood to abscond. The hood was extremely heavy. Our gang ringed its perimeter and proceeded to manhandled it as quietly as we could out of the dump and across the road to the cable trail. We rested many times as we sloshed along the short curved slushy road and again at the bottom of the mountain. We took a long recuperating respite before continuing the strenuous time-consuming task carrying and dragging our stolen hood to the top of the mountain.

Once we neared the crest, we positioned the hood upside down, pointing towards the bottom, nose first on the snow. The hood’s pot-medal chromed ornament previously scavenged left two holes where it stood.

Everyone piled on for the thrilling ride. The hood didn’t move. Two of the largest boys got off and gave it a mighty push. Our high anticipation faded quickly as lid’s steel point dug deep into the snow. Everyone got off. We repositioned our sled a little farther down the steep slope.

Everyone pushed on the sides and back. The hood took off. Excited kids dove onto our accelerating snow ship. There was nothing to grasp. Snow shot up the sides as we blazed a path down the icy mountainside. Two steady streams of small ice crystals pelted our faces like machine guns through the missing adornment’s holes.

We hit the first ridge hard and caught air. Before landing, two boys flew off into the trees crowding both edges of the trail.

The hood kept accelerating. The boys kept yelling. We shot over the next ridge. Two or three more passengers lost to the bush.

The third ridge was only a fast approaching blur. Snowy iced water poured from our eye sockets leaving us barely a squint of vision. We knew beyond doubt we were going into orbit as we propelled off the next ridge.

Not a single astronaut had enough grip strength to squeeze the frozen slippery edge of our sled. The final boys, I included, blasted into the forest. The empty hood continued skating to the bottom.

Our rush was beyond exhilarating. We raced to the bottom to retrieve our flying wedge and to do it again.

We spent the rest of the day dragging the weighty hood twice more to the top and shooting down the slope. No kid ever completed the screaming ride.

On the third and last flight, the hood veered off course. We hit the third ridge disastrously sideways. Everyone was soaring in all directions. The empty hood launched off the trail cracking through the underbrush between trees. It ended buried in the thick growth. The recovery mission would have taken days.

We abandoned our steel ship and dragged our bruised and battered body’s home.




Burnt to the Ground

SUMMER 1963



He was alone deep in the forest. Jim spotted the bear through the thick brush just in time, and scrambled up the closest tree.

The opened mouth teeth-bearing monster started up after him. Jim fended it off by beating the wild animal’s head with his wooden double-curved bow. His bow cracked and ruined beyond repair. The black bear retreated to ground and sat below him for more than two hours. Tasty treats are worth waiting for.

After the wild creature finally made his way back into the depths of the forest, Jim remained on his perch for another hour just to ensure he was alone, before he climbed off the tree and hurriedly snuck home.

He went into the forest that morning to check on the small log cabin fort his brother and he built with a couple of friends.

The evening before Jim’s bear encounter, eight neighborhood boys played football on the graveled rocky street. Dusk was ending within a half an hour and by nine o’clock it would be pitch black.

Jim was the oldest of our neighborhood team. Four teenagers from the lower section of town came up the street. Though they were all a couple of years older, Jim knew two of them. As the small group of hoods approached us, Jim asked, “What’s up?”

“Nothing. We’re just going to party in the forest,” they answered.

We were suspicious. Who would go into the woods in the dark? I certainly wouldn’t.

When Jim got back to our street the following afternoon he told us, “They burnt our fort to the ground.” In addition, he informed us of his bear encounter.

Thom, Wayne, Greg, Anton, and I were involved in building that log structure. We had been pseudo cougar hunting and stumbled upon it by accident a couple of months earlier while tromping through the bush with our tree branch spears. Jim and his brother caught us as we were invading their bastion.

They explained we hadn’t been included in their clandestine cabin because we were too young to keep it secret. Jim forced us to take a blood oath using his extremely sharp hunting knife. In turn, each of us had to cut a finger, draw blood, and swear to secrecy. However, been cut on many occasions, it never hurt as much as this time. The anticipation was more painful than the actual act. Our older friends reveled in our torture.

Two months later, our ritual turned out all-for-not. After the fire, we took Jim’s large shorthaired Black lab, for bear protection, and went into the bush to the fire site. We stood there inspecting the damaged fort; it was a total loss. We sat around the charred burnt stinking spot contemplating our next move. We decided to construct a new larger citadel considerably further out in the rugged terrain.

Later that week Jim and his brother chose the perfect site. We all took our hatchets and followed them into the forest. We laid out the plot plan and started cutting down the straightest Alder trees we could find. We stripped the branches while chopping them to the correct lengths.

Each log notched top and bottom on both ends. Then we stacked the logs locking with each notched end to the log directly below it. When the walls were up, we chinked between each length with moss to hold out the wind and cold. All that remained was the roof and front porch.

We hauled too-many-to-count loads of boards into the bush for this part of the construction.

Finally, we concluded a sleeping shelf added to the inside back of the cabin would top it off. More lumber hauled through the thick brush. The split-level addition was just large enough for two boys to sleep comfortably on.

Upon final inspection, we decide one more addition. It took all of us hours and hours, each taking numerous turns dragging, pulling, and trying to carry the extremely heavy cast iron stove through the forest.

We cut a stovepipe exit hole though the truss above the flat roofed porch and installed the stove and smoke stack. With this final installation, our log cabin was complete. It was wonderful!

We spent many countless days at our cabin, sitting around eating Miracle Whip sandwiches and telling lies.

My parents never allowed Thom or me to spend the night in our fort although Jim and his brother had many times. I could hardly wait until I was old enough to enjoy this privilege.

After Jim’s bear incident, we all received bows and arrows for Christmas. Apparently, my bear encounter had not been as critical as Jim’s was.

Our father taught Thom and I bow safety. Rule number one, never, never shoot an arrow straight up into the air. Of course, this was the first rule we immediately broke.

Groups of boys, including Thom and me, stood in the middle of our pasture and shot arrows straight into the sky. The idea being to make an arrow project so high it became un-seeable. We all could accomplish the task quite easily.

Obviously, each arrow returned to earth at lightening speeds. It never occurred to us, or we just had not cared a boy stepping a few feet from the group would not fare well. An arrow through the top of your skull would instantly kill you.

Maximum fun has no boundaries!


Fifth Grade

SPRING 1964



My fifth grade teacher was a larger muscular man; at least six foot three inches tall with thick curly black hair and broad Quasimodo hunched shoulders.

He had previously been a forest ranger before becoming a grade school teacher. In British Columbia, one forest rangers’ job was cursing timber. Rangers forced to spend large amounts of time alone in the dense forest inspected and marked trees for logging. Northwest Canadian coast rangers were strong tough men. It was Mr. Brown’s mission to turn his fifth grade boys into the same!

The ex-forest ranger treated us well beyond our young age. One of the responsibilities he bestowed upon us: we were old enough to develop our own cursive writing style. My somewhat legible script quickly turned into unreadable gibberish. This was a lifelong infliction. I could not even decipher my own notes years later while attending college.

Another of his life lessons involved taking responsibility for one’s actions. During one recess late in the second half of the year, Mr. Brown was assigned playground duty on the usually muddy field. Anton and I thought it would be fun to pellet him with the eight-inch soft red rubber playground balls. Most kids were constantly wet and dirty. Neither Anton nor I could have realized how filthy his clean suit would turn out. He did not appreciate the fun!

I got a little too close. Before I could launch my throw, he was after me. I ran as fast as I possibly could towards safety off the school grounds. I was no match for his long strides. He caught me on the school’s border embankment. Mr. Brown proceeded to throw me into the mud and kick me with his hard wing-tipped Brogue shoes before throwing me off the bank. Our fun had turned to my pain.

Anton and I walked back to class after the recess bell rung. I was desperate to hurry to the restroom and attempt a little cleaning and drying before returning to class. When we arrived a few feet from the bottom of the short stairs leading into the school Anton told me to go ahead while he waited there. I did’t understand until I rounded the corner and Mr. Brown jumped out to grab Anton. He was still standing firm in his spot on the playground.

His two older brothers, Wayne and Greg, tortured Anton daily. He painfully learned all the survival tricks. He should not have waved and laughed. Mr. Brown stomped off and we returned to class.

Quickly Mr. Brown took Anton to the office for his well-deserved paddling. Anton was an old hand at receiving earned and unearned physical punishment at a teacher’s whim.

We sat through the last two hours of class; wet, dirty and in pain. Astoundingly neither of us learned the intended lesson.

Another of Mr. Brown’s trainings was specifically for me. It was a punishment and not the reward he described. The fifth and sixth grade classes were planning a spring soccer match. The sixth grade team was short a man. My teacher approached me, “I want to give you the honor of playing with older class boys. It’ll afford you a great opportunity for more experience.”

What was he talking about; honor? I was one of the top two soccer players in my grade; if not number one and he was demoting me to the low-man-position on the sixth-grade totem pole.

On game day, I was the sixth grade alternate and only played for a couple of minutes. The fifth graders won the grudge match. I left being nothing more than one of the losers. I thought his lesson intended to teach me humility through discouragement because that was what I learned.

Mr. Brown only paddled me once. Unpredictably it was not on his birthday when a group of us thought it would be funny to push his VW bug into the mud on the unfinished street next to the school. It was not my idea but I helped. Mr. Brown wrongfully accused me of being the ringleader. He stuck to reprimanding and publicly degrading me during class.

My turn at the wrong end of his paddle arrived late one spring afternoon during art class. I was chewing a piece of gum Ross gave me and the huge man caught me. He instructed me to spit it out! I answered, “Ok,” but somehow quickly forgot to discard the offending chew.

Mr. Brown, not that I noticed, continued monitoring me. The second time he demanded I spit out my gum I answered, “Yeh.”

Before I could even stand from my desk and start to towards the steel trash bucket, he screamed, “Get to the office!”

He nipped at my heels as we arrived at the small room in unison. The teacher explained the proper English term being, “Yes Sir!”

It was a petty semantic mistake and figured the punishment was for a year’s worth of indiscretion. It was his last opportunity to get even.

He forced me to lay across the large oak desk. The giant gripped the paddle in his huge hands as though it was a baseball bat. He swung for the fences. Whack! The desk and I, melded as one, jumped six inches.

He continued swinging until the desk smacked the wall and couldn’t move any further. My pain was excruciating. Anton always returned to class laughing after his punishments. I didn’t have it in me to follow his lead. I went back to class fighting back tears and trying to look brave. I sure my transparent demeanor fooled no one.

From that day forward, I never overlooked the appropriate, “Yes sir!” Mr. Brown was a good teacher.

Thankfully, the year was almost over and I never got another turn to share his office. I do not believe I could have lived through two episodes of the embarrassment.

Of course, I never told my parents. There was no logical reason to be swat twice for the same offense.






Tidal Wave Deviation

SPRING 1964



It was a cold early spring morning. A giant wave sped up the Alberni Canal at over two-hundred miles an hour. The ten-foot high wall of muddy debris filled water destroyed everything in its path. This was the second and largest of the tidal waves to come up the canal.

The first wave hit an hour earlier just after mid-night on Good Friday in nineteen-sixty-four. The mysterious grimy water continued to rise covering the lower town beneath eight feet of unfathomable thick liquid.

The receding water was stronger than a hundred Hoovers sucking mountains of debris down the canal in preparation for the next larger barrage of destruction.

The frenzied local radio station was unsure what was happening and broadcasted unreliable-mixed signals. Confusion was everywhere and ignorant townsfolk flocked to the area to witness the disaster.

Citizens were required to abandon their flooded homes and vehicles. They struggled through the deep mire desperately searching for higher ground. It was miraculous no one drowned or died during the devastation.

In the end, six mighty waves surged over the area during eighteen hours of chaos. These monstrous waves were the consequences of a nine-point-two Alaskan earthquake; the largest quake in US history and the second most powerful recorded worldwide. It took four and a half hours for the huge ocean swells to reach our southern British Columbian town.

Some cleanup assistance tasked to my Boy Scout Troop. The Saturday, a week following the tsunamis, they drove us around the barricades into the war-like zone.

The devastation was incomprehensible. We witnessed where boats and automobiles had tossed around like toys in a child’s plastic wading pool. Houses had floated blocks from their foundations. Dead fish littered every scene. Huge logs separated from their booms along the canal besieged streets and yards.

Our leaders handed us brooms, mops, and shovels. The mud was deeper than our rudder galoshes could thwart as we trudged to our first assigned house. We entered the dwelling and shoveled up buckets of dead fish before tackling the mud.

After our first house-cleaning attempt, we continued from structure to structure. The wreckage intense and by the end of our laborious day, not one home looked like anyone ever touched it.

My scouting days started four years earlier as a newly recruited Cub Scout.

A circle of young boys stood at attention as stiff as boards. It was the end of our Thursday evening Cub Scout meeting. Paul was next to me. Our leader noticed the incoherent swaying Cub and yelled, “Paul, get to attention!”

It was too late. Paul toppled over unbending, nose first into the hardwood floor. The scoutmaster ran to his aid. He flipped the boy over, Paul’s face bloody and his nose still squirting the thick deep red liquid.

Our leader immediately yelled, “Meeting’s over! Everyone get out!”

No one knew what happened as we herded out the door and down the hall’s steps into the chilly night air.

This evening Rocky’s father turn came around to pick up our neighborhood group return them home. I liked it when Rocky’s dad showed up. He always brought a sweet treat for each of us. Tonight was bubble gum cigars. Mine was banana flavored.

We all stuffed and chewed. On the short five-minute ride home, I managed to squeeze the whole gum cigar into my mouth. There was so much gum I could not close my small orifice and by the time I entered into our living room my jaws were aching. My Mother immediately made me spit out the giant yellow saliva filled rubbery wad.

I asked my father about what had happened to Paul. He informed me it was nothing to worry about, “Soldiers standing at attention often pass out.” He was right. Paul was at school the following day, no worse for wear, except for his swollen black and blue colored face and broken nose.

Scouting was fun and good training for boys in the early sixties.

We earned merit badges by completing various projects. In Cub Scouts, there were slightly more than a dozen obtainable badges. We learned flag semaphore, Morse code, first aid, knots, trees, and other practical never used skills.

The northwest mid-summer evenings stayed light until around nine PM. This afforded us quite a few outdoor meetings. We played baseball or other sports and games in the park across the street from the Scout Hall or hiked along the Alberni Canal complete with ghost stories and other evening adventures. All always shared a good time.


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